Williams to face Sunderland on Ball’s bow

Darren Williams

Darren Williams

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DARREN Williams will make a personal check on Sunderland’s youngsters tomorrow night, as he prepares to lock horns with former skipper Kevin Ball.

Ex-Sunderland defender and now Whitby Town player-manager Williams has confirmed he will feature for one half against the Black Cats reserves tomorrow (kick-off 7pm) in Ball’s first public outing in charge of the second string.

Ball’s side were due to play a behind-closed-doors friendly against Hamilton Academical at the Academy of Light today, but the trip to the Turnbull Ground is the former Sunderland midfielder’s maiden outing since succeeding Keith Bertschin as the club’s reserve team boss.

It will be a rookie side at Ball’s disposal, with 10 regular members of last season’s second string included in the first-team squad for Sunderland’s pre-season tour to South Korea.

But Williams still expects a stern test from the Black Cats after Whitby’s first pre-season outing ended in defeat on Saturday with a 2-0 loss to Northern League newcomers Darlington.

Williams told the Echo: “I will probably play some part in the game, 45 minutes or so.

“I’m looking forward to it because it will be a great challenge for us, no matter what team we will be facing.

“Whether Sunderland are bringing young lads or reserve players, they are still good enough to be at a Premier League club.

“Our lads will be out there wanting to give a good account of themselves and prove a point to Kevin and Craig Liddle (Sunderland youth team coach).

“We all know what Kevin Ball was like as a player, he was a fantastic leader for Sunderland. He always gave 110 per cent so it will be good to pit my wits against him.”

Williams won promotion at the Stadium of Light alongside Ball in 1999 and knows first-hand the leadership qualities possessed by his former captain.

And the 35-year-old believes Ball’s new role is a perfect one, to ensure Sunderland’s young professionals remain grounded with the spoils that come at a Premier League club.

“Kevin was always going to end up on the coaching or managerial side of things,” said Williams.

“He was so well respected and lads like myself who were coming through, always looked up to him.

“He will get to work with young professionals now, develop them and hopefully push them through into the first-team ranks.

“He will put some discipline into them as well. I’m not saying it’s like this at Sunderland, but you look through the Premier League and lads are getting a lot of money at a really young age.

“You see it week-in, week-out when they’re on a night out in the papers. When I was younger I couldn’t afford to go on a night out!

“Now Sunderland have got Kevin there and he will be on top of that. He’s not going to shackle them, but he’ll make sure they grow up the right way.”

Williams has been in charge at Whitby since October and remains in the process of overhauling the squad he inherited from ex-Newcastle United midfielder Tommy Cassidy, with 10 trialists featuring against Darlington at the weekend.

But the former Cardiff and Hartlepool utility man admits that he is taken aback by the financial spoils on offer, even in the humble surroundings of non-league.

Williams admits the Evo-Stick Premier side are being out-muscled by their Northern League counterparts – with newcomers Carlisle-based Celtic Nation understood to be paying ex-Hartlepool striker Adam Boyd a £300 per week salary.

“I am enjoying it,” he added. “It is good to be sitting on the other side of the fence.

“I initially just came here to play, but unfortunately the manager in charge was not doing particularly well and – without being disrespectful – the lads he brought in just were not up to the challenge.

“We had to get rid of half the squad and get other lads in, which took us about two months.

“The only thing is we are competing with Northern League clubs, who are offering ridiculous money to players. I’ve never heard anything like it.

“I was on a nice salary, although I was never a high earner, but lads have different circumstances and ambitions nowadays.”